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This advice on business writing, although pitched against academic writing, actually seems like pretty sound advice for academics, except maybe for the advice to use “I” and “you”. But: don’t assume a captive audience, get to the point, cut, especially cut fancy words, and it’s okay to begin sentences with conjunctions—all of that sounds pretty good.


I enjoyed this outburst.

I just don’t get it. I give up. I’m, like, off the bus.

However, a confession: It struck me as I was writing this that Tye simply couldn’t be saying what I was taking him to say… It struck me that nobody could believe that. So I went and tried it out on a couple of philosophy friends … and they agreed that nobody could believe what I was writing that Tye believes. Fair enough, but then, what is one to make of such a passage as this: “An object’s looking F . . . [isn’t] a matter of an object’s causing an experience which represents simply that something is F [sic]. The experience one has of the seen object is one into whose content the seen object itself enters” (my emphasis)….

Now, I’m kind of a Tarskian about meaning. I don’t do “radical interpretation”. So, when someone writes “the experience one has of the seen object is one into whose content the seen object itself enters” I suppose that he is probably saying that the experience one has of the seen object is one into whose content the seen object itself enters. Perhaps someone of a more hermeneutical temperament than mine will correct this reading in next week’s Letters page in the TLS, and I will then feel a perfect goose. For now, however, I shall proceed on the assumption that I have got Tye more or less right.

I’m sure it’s wrong of me to like this passage, not least because I know I would hate anything like it to appear in a review of a book I’d written. And I know full well that could happen—which means I keenly feel how unfair it is. Yet we read reviews with the morals we have, not the morals we might want or wish to have.1

1And yes, I also feel bad about quoting Donald Rumsfeld, but I enjoy that too. I’m really quite morally indefensible.

Edward M. Bernstein, the man who supposedly added the words “and Development” to “International Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” talking to an interviewer, Stanley Black, about his good fortune in life; he got hired right out of graduate school to tenure at North Carolina State in 1930, the midst of the Great Depression.

Bernstein: No, I didn’t start at the bottom. To tell you the truth, although my wife doesn’t like me to say it, all my life I’ve been overappreciated, overhonored, and overpaid. Everywhere I went I got to the top of the scale very fast.

S.B.: It helps to have the talent with words, and writing.

Bernstein: Maybe, oh yes, there’s nothing like being able to write. Being able to write is a remarkable gift. There’s none better, if you can also think.

I really like that caveat. Though the exchange is also nice for Black’s Steve-Martinish interposition.

I apologize for being a bit late to the party, but if you haven’t already read David Grann’s reported essay in this week’s New Yorker, you really should. Grann looks at the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, a man executed by the State of Texas in 2004, though he very well may have been innocent. It’s a beautifully reported and written piece, and one of the most terrifying explorations of the state’s power that I’ve read in many years. Seriously, set aside an hour or so — it’s a long article, and you almost certainly won’t be able to stop once you start — and begin reading.

(The title of the post, by the way, is a quote from Sandra Day O’Connor.)

this strikes me as a nice example of a simple but elegant piece. The author, Russ Buettner, sets scene with great economy, builds characters efficiently and vividly, trusts his readers to fill in some gaps in the tick-tock and build their own transitions where necessary, and renders a satisfying narrative arc. Mr. Buettner* is obviously a fan of John McPhee. But that’s a feature rather than a bug in my book.

* Times style.

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